Coming back home after I dropped my daughters at the airport gave me a lot of time to introspect about what well meaning family and friends were telling me. Everyone was concerned about how I am going to spend my time, how much I will miss the girls, what would I do to keep myself occupied, an empty nest, silence at home, etc etc.
I was surprised to find that most people around me think that I would have nothing to do or would be thoroughly bored. It actually got me thinking why parents end up feeling that way. It also got me to delve into memories and observations. Don’t get me wrong here. I, for one minute, do not say that I will not miss my daughters. Of course! I will!!! But, hey, guess what…I have brought the up for this day. The day where they step out as young ladies, take charge of their lives, work towards fulfilling their dreams and lead a life on their own terms. I would rather celebrate such a day than mope around.
So, here is my two bit for everyone whose fledglings are about to fly off the proverbial nest.
Have faith in your child. Many a times, parents go on harping about how their children don’t do this or that. You have brought up your own children. They have seen you do all the things that they are doing now. Remember, when you complain about the value system your kids are following, you are basically complaining about the value system you have taught them. Trust your upbringing and trust the way you are bringing up your next generation. After all, you didn’t turn out so bad yourself!
Communicate regularly, but, effectively. I have agonized over how much communication is enough communication with kids. At what stage of life do I share certain things. I’m sure a lot of you parents out there think about this. And then we tend to go overboard both ways…either we are constantly communicating (kids call it breathing down their necks) or we clamp up (kids call it uninteresting, boring parents). It is a difficult path to walk. What has worked for me is to share a combination of thoughts and feelings. I have consciously avoided sermonising. The biggest mistake a Mom or Dad can make is to go into “when I was your age” mode. Children so detest it. If you want your child to be an exact replica of you, my take is to clone yourself. Parents have to accept that their children have a personality of their own. Allow that personality to bloom. We can only nurture with love and affection.
Mentally let go. While your teenager will move away physically, a lot of Moms find it difficult to cut the proverbial umbilical cord. Please do not do this to your child. They will never be able to take decisions in their lives. I strongly believe that the best gift you can give your kids, is the ability to take decisions. Let them not become worry warts and procrastinators and not take decisions in life. Empower them in such a manner that while they are away, you know they can take care of themselves.
Avoid over involvement. Allow your children to experiment or make mistakes for themselves. So common is this “helicopter parenting”, in which Mums and Dads hover close by, whether their children need them or not, that Universities find it difficult during counselling sessions. Sure you are concerned, but don’t make the University/college/counsellor or even your off spring feel cornered. Most educational institutions have a fairly good communication process with the parents or guardians. If we follow them, we come to know how our child is progressing. Micro managing their lives will not allow them to grow up as individuals. One new recruit at a software company was overheard on the phone to his mother saying: “I’ve got to go to London tomorrow and they haven’t even told me how to get there.” You really don’t want that child to be yours.
Your life is your life. I presume most families have both parents working. You do have your work, your friends, your hobbies. I know a lot of parents give up their hobbies, socialising while the kids are growing up. This is the time to get back into the groove. I started branching out and doing different things almost a year ago. Being an entrepreneur helps, as I am able to manage my time effectively. It gives me time to indulge in some activities that I could not do earlier. Also, it does not make me feel guilty that I am doing something ignoring my kids. Most of us do not indulge for ourselves because it makes us feel guilty 🙂
Create your own support system. Make new friends, develop new hobbies, work for a social cause, spend time with extended family. Revel and share your children’s achievements with all these people. They will also love it and you come away feeling positive. Do not make only your spouse your support system. I agree in some cases the Dads have it a little easy…a boys’ night out they share with their friends gets the “missing my kids” feeling out. With Moms who have not gone out with friends because they did not want to leave the kids alone, will find it difficult to do a girls’ night out. My recommendation, do go out…after all it is your life. Your spouse and kids will not grudge you that 🙂
Ideal time to spend with your partner. We have started rediscovering each other the last few months. Yes, the conversation is also mostly about the children. However, with the children going away, our time is our time, again without the guilt. Both of us are looking forward to more adventures, companionship, travel and doing new things together. All I can say is let your love bloom again.
A lot of parents discover that there is nothing really for them together once the children leave home. Sad, but, true. Acknowledge it. See how you can work on the relationship. You as a couple know best. If a split is inevitable ( I see more and more of this happening), manage it sensitively. Even though the children are young adults, you both are still the parents. Ensure that your children know they have emotional & physical space in your new life. That is very important for them as they are away from home.
Pay attention to your younger ones. Very often, when the older sibling goes away, the younger ones are lost. They feel the absence more than any one of us. Perhaps because they haven’t anticipated the effect of an absent brother or sister as well as parents might have done. And if you’re moping around, it may make them feel second best. My younger daughter felt that and she expressed herself. It helped me correct my own behaviour and the time I spent with her increased. We discovered fun stuff that we could do together without my older one being around.
One thing I am sure of is when we are confident of allowing our off springs to build a life they are going to be proud of, we automatically feel proud of who they are. Like I always say, I believe our legacy will be defined by the accomplishments and fearless nature by which our children take on life’s challenges. As parents our responsibility (not duty) is to enable and empower them…and then allow them to lead their lives.